My wife and I went to Viognier, a wonderful restaurant in downtown San Mateo, last Friday. We’ve dined there several times now and always have a great experience: awesome food and impeccable service. On this night, we decided to have a quick dinner in their bar area, trying out their lighter Lounge Menu for the first time.
We started with a Sazerac (me), a dirty vodka martini (the missus), and oysters on the half shell. It was my first Sazerac and while it was good, the absinthe made it a bit too licorice-y for me; I’ll stick with Manhattans/Old Fashioneds next time. Molly loved the martini: smooth, with a generous amount of olive juice. We both enjoyed the oysters: good size, strong ocean-y flavor. Molly would’ve liked horseradish in the cocktail sauce.
For the main course, Molly went with the smoked salmon pizzetta. It was very light and tasty: the crème fraîche was a nice touch, the crust thin and crisp. Solid. The star of the evening, however, was my Niman Ranch cheeseburger. Every single ingredient was superb…and they worked even better all together. The spring mix was lightly dressed with a vinaigrette. First time I’ve ever had dressed lettuce on a burger and I must say, it’s a great idea, adding a faint flavor and moistness to a generally overlooked component of a burger. The tomato had a wonderful mildly sweet & rich flavor; I don’t think it was an heirloom, but sure tasted like one. The egg bun was slightly sweet and just the right softness. An unassuming but noticeable slice of cheddar, thinly sliced red onions, and touch of mayo rounded out the accompaniment. At center stage was a moist, velvety, perfectly medium-rare, intensely beefy patty. It was that intense, super beefy flavor that made all the difference — and that’s all too rare in burgers. So good, I didn’t even need to use ketchup. So good, it’s the new best burger I’ve ever eaten. (The perfectly cooked truffle-oil shoestring fries were gravy.)
Viognier’s offering replaced Zuni Café’s house-ground burger — also notable for its über-beefy flavor — as my top dog. It’s been a while since I’ve had Zuni’s burger, however, so I may have to try it again soon to give it a fair shake. Third-place is any of the several tasty burgers San Carlos’s The Refuge offers.
Three honorable mentions. First, there was a great burger shack in Irvine called Pinky’s Hamburger Grill. It was a surfer-themed place that offered a magnificent BBQ-sauced burger called something like the Big Kahuna burger that was outta this world. It was similar to Red Robin’s Whiskey River BBQ Burger, but so much better. Pinky’s went out of business about 20 years ago, so my brain has mythologized the memory of that burger. You might call it my “zero burger”: it’ll never be topped, but I can’t honestly be sure it’s the best because I was so young when I last ate it. Second, the best regular, non-highfalutin burgers are at Jeffrey’s Hamburgers in San Mateo. Perfect diner burgers, the kind you’d aspire to make at home if you had a big griddle. Get it with cheddar and grilled onions. Third, the lobster burger at Michel Richard’s Central in Washington, DC is one of the maybe five best things I’ve ever eaten in my life. A transcendent dish. But since it’s not beef, it’s not really a burger.
And two final thoughts. First, Viognier’s delightful manager/maître d’ comped us some macaroons that were extraordinary. One pistachio and one lemon. The lemon one was magnificently sweet and fruity, but not overly so. Reminded us of real Parisian macaroons. Second, I came up with a superb idea for a burger topping: bone marrow, à la ossobuco. So rich and beefy.
Mmmmm, ossobuco burger…maybe Thomas Keller can get it right.